Shell-ing of plan is nearsighted

Posted: June 12, 2012

Pittsburgh and Philadelphia are already separated by 300 miles and a range of mountains, but there is no reason for them to be divided by spite.

Yet it was spite that I sensed in the Daily News' reaction to tax credits being planned to attract a massive, new petrochemical plant in the state's southwest.

After months of negotiation by Gov. Tom Corbett and his staff, Shell Chemical LC announced that it had optioned 300 acres on the site of a closed zinc plant in Beaver County and — if all proceeds according to plan — would build a $4 billion petrochemical complex that would create as many as 10,000 construction jobs and spin off thousands of other jobs once it was running.

In a region that has lost thousands of steel and coal jobs, and the population that went with them, this announcement marked the most important economic development decision in more than a generation. Making this plan work meant attracting Shell first by declaring the area of the plant a Keystone Opportunity Zone, easing tax burdens for the early stage of what should be an operating life spanning generations.

The reasoning here is simple: people in the state's southwest need jobs. The ones at Shell are likely to pay, on average, $70,000 a year, and once the plant is running dozens of other manufacturing operations are likely to spring up around it.

Ethane is derived from the Marcellus Shale gas that lies beneath much of our state, and it is the industrial feedstock for a range of products including plastics, footwear, paint and assorted chemicals.

A plant that refines it becomes a focal point for the kind of development that can create Pennsylvania's new Industrial Revolution.

So why the uproar?

The administration, understanding that the key to creating the kind of critical mass to bring refining and manufacturing together in the same area, understands that a 5-cent-a-gallon tax credit on the ethane would encourage immediate production. And it would keep that production in our state, rather than having it piped to the Gulf Coast where it would create no Pennsylvania jobs.

Pennsylvania has done much the same by way of public investment for the Philadelphia region — investing directly in the shipyards, putting forward money to dredge the port and committing personnel and resources to finding a way to keep the Philadelphia region's three oil refineries up and running.

The Daily News itself occupies a building rehabilitated under a tax credit.

What we are proposing in the southwest is not a "Shell tax credit." It would apply as well to anyone who opens a similar processing plant.

If you ask an unemployed worker if he'd rather have a stranger taxed or have a good-paying job, he or she will always opt for the job. It makes sense.

Some, such as Will Bunch, might point out that Shell made $31 billion in profits last year. This is true. It's also true that virtually none of that $31 billion in profits accrued to the benefit of Pennsylvania workers. If it takes a tax credit to give our citizens a chance at prospering through Shell, then let's do it and drop the political posturing at the expense of fellow citizens who finally have a chance at good paying jobs.

We can spend months debating the ideological merits of providing a corporation a tax credit to assure job creation, but we don't have months. We need to send a clear signal now that prosperity in one corner of the state is understood and appreciated by the other.

This is hardly the time for politicians and pundits in Philadelphia to stand in the way of opportunity for fellow citizens on the other side of the state.

C. Alan Walker

Secretary

Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development

Other Banner days

Open letter to Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie:

Dear Jeff,

Now that you got rid of Joe Banner, its time to get rid of Fat Andy and Vick.

For 14 years we've been hearing Andy say that he's "gotta do a better job putting guys in a position to make plays. That's my fault I take full responsibility." If His Largeness devoted as much time to the play-calling as he does preparing his answers to post-game questions, he might actually accomplish something.

Vick is a $100 million bust! He's one hit away from being finished, which would be his karma for all those innocent dogs that he tortured. Its time to get a real coach who's not afraid to throw players under the bus if they cost the team a game, along with a real QB.

The other NFC East teams have at least three Super Bowl trophies each. We're still waiting for our first!

As Andy says all the time: "Time's yours."

Mike Betz

Philadelphia

Hospitals must pay

Re: "Don't end hospitals' nonprofit status" letter:

All hospitals should pay their taxes like everyone else. Family doctors give charity care for which they are not compensated, and still have to pay taxes.

Everyone should pay their taxes — NO EXCEPTIONS!

George J. Petruncio, M.D.

Turnersville, N.J.

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